All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kieley

With all that has been going on in the world as of late, I thought it would be a perfect time to recommend one of my favorite books.

Similar to The Hate U Give, All American Boys is a captivating story about racial injustice and while it was released quite a while ago, it has always maintained its relevance especially in today’s current social climate

Written by two authors and two different perspectives, All American Boys is about two teenagers, Rashard and Quinn, and how they will stand up for the racism that Rashard faces once he gets falsely accused of stealing in a grocery store and the many injustices he faces afterward. 

From the beginning, this book had something that as different from other fictional books I’ve read about racial injustice and one of which is dual perspectives. I absolutely adored the different points of view and the fact they were each written by different authors made them all the more enjoyable. With the dual perspectives, it gave the book a deeper meaning and showed how one part of the community could stay silent about the issues of injustice (Quinn’s) and how another community rallied for it. 

One of the main themes of this book is loyalty. From the catalyst event moving onwards Quinn deals with the fact that maybe his loyalty lies in the wrong people. For example, his best friends brother was the police officer that cruelly manhandled Rashard and escalated the situation that shouldn’t have even been an issue in the first place. Throughout the book Quinn is trying to hold onto the trust and security not only with his best friend but his brother, who he also has a close bond with. 

This story is so captivating and powerful that I finished it in one sitting. From start to finish I was hooked, and I can almost guarantee that you would as well. 

Though Rashard’s story though fictional is very much a reality for what a lot of people of color face. But in most cases, the victim doesn’t get justice. This book shows the privilege some people live in for their lives to continue as though nothing has happened. It also serves as a reminder that when something isn’t right to speak up about it. Advocate and speak out about stories of people like Rashard who can’t do it for themselves because “Rashard couldn’t come to school today.” 

In terms of reality, Rashard’s story would only be the tip of the iceberg. Racial inequality is still very much alive and is being brought up not only in fiction but in daily life. So stay aware and advocate!

-Asli B.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kieley is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Bernett

No matter what age you are, almost anyone can enjoy a whimsical and well-written children’s classic. In fact, my most recent favorite is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Bernett. 

The Secret Garden tells the story of a girl named Mary Lennox who whilst residing at her uncle’s house tries to figure out how to get into the secret garden, which has been locked up for a decade. Along the way she makes friends and leaves her mark on the dull and somber manor. 

One aspect of this story I loved was the character development. When we first start out the book Mary is an insufferable, harsh brat who knows nothing about friendship because of her circumstances in the past. But once she opens up to people and learns to see the good in things and people alike, everything changes for her and she transforms into a kind and caring child. 

The character development isn’t limited to just Mary though, her uncle’s son, Colin Craven has been thought to be dying for all of his life. But with Mary’s help, everything seems to change for the better. 

The Secret Garden is very predictable, in the way almost all children’s classics are, but I am in no way complaining. In fact, the predictability makes way for you to become more attached to the characters because of all of their arcs. 

Now if you couldn’t tell I have an infatuation with children’s classics. To me, they are such simple and impacting stories that always change your outlook on life. Frances Hodgson Bernett is my favorite children’s book author right now, seeing as she’s written both of my favorites, The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. Both books which I wholeheartedly recommend. 

In short, if you’re a fellow devotee for good children’s classics like me, then you’ll love this book. 

-Asli B.

Educated by Tara Westover

With overwhelmingly positive reviews from Bill Gates, Barak Obama, as well as consistently winning the best memoir of the year in 2018 by multiple institutions, I had to see if this book lived up to all the hype it seemed to be receiving from everywhere. 

Needless to say, it went above and beyond my expectations. 

Educated is the author’s own story of growing up in a survivalist family that did not allow anyone, least of all Tara, an education. It is the journey of her breaking free from the destructiveness of her family and ending up studying at Cambridge and Harvard.

This memoir is easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, if not only for the powerfulness of it. Throughout the memoir, you go from pitying Tara, to pride for all that she’s accomplished. 

One trait I love about Tara is her determination. As she starts studying for the SAT, she knew almost nothing and had to learn almost all of it by herself. For example, when she started practicing trigonometry for the first time, she had the math level of a 5th grader. But as she studied more and more, and was so driven that she passed the SAT without receiving any instruction other than her brother Tyler and some books. 

This book affected me in such a deep way that I feel as if it will resonate with me forever. Now whenever I’m doing my schoolwork and feeling unmotivated, I think about Tara and how hard she had to work to just prove she had what it took without proper schooling to get into high prestige schools. She was very independent and as someone who is striving to do so, Tara is someone I look up to.

Now because of her upbringing she did have a lot of mental health issues. After discovering herself, she was pushed away by her family. Even though she had spoken out to her other family members about how manipulating and damaging her childhood was, almost no one believed her. Because of this, her family ignored her, and even though they have been the root of almost all her problems, she finds herself heartbroken over this. 

But the main thing her family has done to her was the manipulation of ideals they have put upon her. As she was growing up she was taught that the government and all of its institutions were part of the illuminati and were out to kill them. The only thing Tara’s parents willingly taught her about was religion. In fact, when she attended college she couldn’t write the way other student did because she learned to read and write only from mormon texts, she had almost no idea of how to function in a normal society. When going through with all this manipulation her parents justified it in their name of their faith, but it is clearly radicalism, and it is so, so frustrating to read about. 

And with that I leave with you a quote from the memoir that perfectly encompasses the idea of finding your own truth:

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create.”

-Asli B.

Educated by Tara Westover is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Adhieh

The wrath and the dawn is not your everyday fantasy novel. 

For one, it has middle eastern representation, which in my opinion is a certain demographic in fantasy that is highly underrepresented. Secondly, it is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, the fairy tale that which inspired Aladdin and many other films under the title the tales are commonly referred to, Arabian Nights

But before we continue can we take a moment to appreciate the covers? The original covers that were released with the book when it came out in 2015, are absolutely gorgeous. And I’d be lying if I didn’t mention that the reason I purchased these books was because of the covers. My quest to obtain the original covers was completed through the wonderful website of eBay, which fortunately had one or two to spare for my honorable mission.

But fear not, the covers were not the only extraordinary part of the book, because of course the most important part of any novel is the content. To that, the wrath and the Dawn upheld the high expectations I had for it. 

The Wrath and The Dawn tells the story of Sharzard, a women of noble birth in the Islamic Golden Age, and Khalid, the Caliph who takes a new bride each night only for them to die the morning after. Once Sharzard’s closest friend falls victim, she decides to volunteer to be his bride to try and kill Khalid. Sharzard convinces the Caliph not to kill her through the stories she tells each night. 

I absolutely zoomed through this book. Not only this one but the duology as well and ended up reading them both in one day. This was highly encouraged by the short and fast-paced chapters. There was never a dull moment in this book, and there was always someone to follow and root for. 

Another particular part that had me completely enthralled and hooked on was the romance. Although the premise seems somewhat problematic and troubling the romance evolves in a very cute and intimate manner that makes it hard to dislike. As with a lot of young adult novels, the main character’s remarks tend to be very witty and sarcastic. But unlike in other novels where those said remarks seem forced and unlike the character, Sharzard’s personality in my opinion is much more genuine and seems natural. These remarks make the banter much more fun to read and helped me get through the book even faster. 

But more importantly, its an enthralling tale about love, danger, and magic in ancient times that everyone should read. 

The wrath and the dawn is also available as a webtoon and although I prefer the original material, if you are short for time or quite like the cartoonish style then I highly recommend that as well. (Note, the webtoon is not completed and is currently being updated weekly.

-Asli B.

The Wrath and The Dawn by Renee Adhieh is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

Book vs. Movie: Little Women (2019)

Though I haven’t seen any other adaptations of Little Women, from reviews I’ve read online, this movie seems to be the best of the bunch. But I highly recommend reading the book before watching it, as the plot can be confusing if you don’t. 

Little Women (2019) shifts time frames constantly, moving between the two different books. When I first put the movie on, much like almost everyone else, I was confused. Throughout the movie it was hard to tell what timeline we were following, the actresses looked the same and they were never explicitly named. 

But as the movie went on, I grew to love it. The shifting timelines were unique and something I never considered could work. The switches really helped the viewers see the parallels, and also see how the girls have matured. 

With an 800 page book made into an hour and 15-minute long movie, you obviously can’t have all the scenes. One of my favorite parts of the book was when the sisters all got gifts for meemaw on Christmas in the first chapter, but sadly that part didn’t make the cut. But some of my favorite scenes include the infamous porch dance, Meg’s ball, Laurie’s proposal, and Beth playing the piano at Laurence’s house. 

Even though I finished the book the very same day I watched the movie, I somehow felt a very strong sense of nostalgia. The movie had a really great way of not only keeping the warmth from the book but expanding on it. Throughout the movie, I ended up feeling even more connected to the book and the characters. 

Speaking of characters, let’s discuss the casting. With very reputable and well-known actresses such as Meryl Streep and Emma Watson, it was appealing form the get-go. I enjoyed all of the performances of the cast, especially Laurie and Amy. When I read the book I despised Amy, but the movie put Amy March in a much better light. It portrayed her not as a person who is bitter about what she has, but someone who knows how to get what she wants and will do whatever it takes. Well, almost everything. 

Although I may have cried at the dinner table while reading the book. After a certain scene in the movie, I was sobbing for half of it. I could feel my parents looking at me troubled but I could not keep my emotions in check. Seeing particular heart-wrenching scenes from the book played out in the movie did not help my tears in the slightest. 

The movie also added some new ideas to the famous story. The newer movie has traces of feminism such as Amy’s speech about marriage that make this classic more modernized. The more current ideals fit with the characters perfectly, as the girls were raised with very modern ideas for the time period. 

The biggest aspect that translated very well from the book was the family dynamic. The movie revolves around the sisters, and the comfortable bantering and bickering really sold it for me. You can tell that the cast was really close while filming, and the movie conveyed the exact feelings of coziness and home that came when I read the book. 

Although the 2019 Little Women adaptation is one of my favorite movies to date, the books will always be better. I encourage you if you’ve only seen the movie to read the book, as it is a classic tale full of family, love, and sisterhood. 

-Asli B. 

Little Women, in all of its adapted forms, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Authors We Love: Ruta Sepetys

Ruts Sepetys is one of the most well known young adult historical fiction authors ever! With historical fiction being my favorite genre, I consider myself proud to say that Ruta Sepetys is my favorite author of all time. I have read all of the books she has written and I consider every single one of them to be some of my favorite books. 

Unlike many historical fiction authors, she doesn’t exclusively write about one event in history. With a setting like New Orleans, Barcelona, and Siberia, Sepetys takes us into a plethora of historical events, with different time periods, people, and settings. 

One specific thing I love about historical fiction is you learn something along the way, and all of Ruta Sepetys writes about overlooked events in history. These aren’t things you learn from your history textbook, they’re much more than that. Her books take you on a journey through events like the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that took 10 times the lives the Titanic did, and is the biggest maritime disaster of all time. But for some unknown reason, nobody talks about it, except for Sepetys.

Not only does she shed these huge historical events to light, but she does also these events justice. Although what she writes is fiction, the historical events they’re based on are all too real. Sepetys does an amazing job of research. In her most recent novel, The Fountains of Silence, the back of the book offered more details about her writing and research process, as well as pages of her notes. Sepetys do years and years of research for just one novel, and by reading the books you can tell how much effort was put into them. 

As for her World War Il novels, she has interviewed countless figures, both strangers and family, that were involved in those events, and based some of her books off of real events her family has gone through. 

Another part that I really love about her books is her writing style. With short and quick chapters, the writing allows you to be constantly engaged. The constant point of view switches keep you on your toes and makes every single one of her books a page-turner.

Between Shades of Gray (2011): Not your everyday World War 2 novel, Between Shades of Gray shows the dark side of Polish deportation and labor camps. With a knowledgeable protagonist and a family trying not to fall apart in the face of war, this brutal novel is a must-read. My Rating: 9/10

Out of the Easy (2013): Out of the Easy is a novel describing the life of the daughter of a prostitute longing to be free and live her own life outside of the bustling city of New Orleans. When a customer at her bookstore is found dead, she finally finds the escape she’s been looking for. My Rating: 7/10

Salt to the Sea (2016): The biggest maritime disaster, and the long path refugees are forced to take to flee Germany, this story tells the tale no one wishes to tell about World War 2.  In this novel, everyone has a secret to tell, and with them come guaranteed tears. My Rating: 10/10

The Fountains of Silence (2019): the Fountains of Silence tells the unknown story of how the Spanish people recovered after their own civil war. Told through the eyes of a photographer tourist from Texas, and a hotel employee who works hard for every penny she earns. This novel shows the trials and tribulations of most families during the reconstruction, but the star of this novel is truly the romance. Greatest of all, you get to learn about what’s really happening with the Spanish government behind closed doors. My Rating: 9/10

-Asli B. 

The works of Ruta Sepetys are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Sadie by Courtney Summers

This book is not for the faint of heart. It contains very graphic and mature scenes and themes, but nonetheless, it’s a beautiful book. 

Sadie tells the heart-wrenching story of a girl trying to get revenge for her sister’s death. It’s told through her own narration, and through a podcast following her trace. 

As a non-avid reader of mysteries/thrillers, this book was nothing like what I had expected. Although it could be a bit slow at times, what is lacked is made up of impact. This book hits so hard, and it’s important to recognize these types of actions as something that sadly is a part of society today. 

As you learn more about Sadie and what she’s been through, and the stories of the people she meets, you find everything that happens is the absolute worst things imaginable. Society is a gruesome and horrible place, and reading this book gave me biggest reality check I ever could’ve gotten.

The most horrible thing is, that these predicaments are what some people live in, it’s all they know, and that thought repulses me. The idea that people can relate to this piece of work is truly a reflection of the worst parts of society today. 

But all that aside, I highly recommend reading this book. Again, it gave me every sort of feeling imaginable and left me wondering about each and every one of the characters we had the honor of meeting. The podcast format for some chapters is such an ingenious idea and executed so well, I regret that I read the physical copy and not the audiobook. 

Our main character is the strongest and most resilient person I’ve ever read about. She has been through so much in her life, and as the book goes on and on, the situation gets worse and worse. Sadie is such a broken and mistreated character that everything she does, and everything she goes through is remarkable to me.

In short, if you want an impactful read, this is it.

If you’re struggling with anything that Sadie encounters or is going through in this book please reach out for help. You are not alone. 

    National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 

    National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

    National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357

-Asli B. 

Sadie by Courtney Summers is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive